Kilifi hosts festival eyeing domestic tourists
With the country experiencing its third wave of Covid-19 and the recent extension of the dusk-to-dawn curfew threatening to delay recovery of the hospitality sector, the county and hoteliers who have largely depended on international visitors are repositioning and repackaging their products to appeal to the local market.
Jasmine Atieno @sparkleMine
With the desire to holiday internationally now largely put on hold in the wake of Covid-19, the idea of exploring your backyard and appreciating local tourism products has surged in popularity.
The prolonged stay in place measures across the world is emerging as a unique opportunity for locals to spend quality time experiencing their own country.
With this new reality, and just like a golden ticken being waved infront of them, hospitality industry players are now frantically scrambling to dive for the prize and pick up traction with the domestic travel market.
It is against this background that Kilifi county hosted a domestic market focussed festival at one of its most popular tourist attractions, Paparemo Beach in Watamu.
The three-day beach festival dubbed ‘The 7Islands Festival’ that was making its first debut over the weekend brought together local deejays and their fans, who performed for revellers as a new strategy to repackage their products to attract domestic tourists and promote Watamu as the number one tourist destination.
Hotels, which had been left empty, gave locals, who could not secure a booking at the facilities before the pandemic, an opportunity to unwind.
Over the years efforts to promote domestic tourism have been somewhat hampered by operators and hoteliers themselves who have been enjoying the top layer of foreign currency and thereby sidelining local holidaymakers through exorbitant rates.
According to the organisers of the festival, the concept of incorporating local entertainers as a way of boosting the area’s economy was inspired by the tourism season in Watamu and the need to not only revive it as a source of employment for the locals, but also to bring in revellers from Nairobi for a coastal party experience.
“We wanted to not only boost businesses in Watamu, but also to bring people from Nairobi for a real musical experience. And the turnout was really good and no loss to count.
We had a lot of last-minute bookings coming in from Nairobi,” said the 7Islands festival organiser, Eugeno Battocchi.
The event, which coincided with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s national address was, however, dimmed when the President issued new directives to extend the lockdown for a further 60 days and limit the number of gatherings, catching event organisers and the hospitality sector in the county by surprise. The event had attracted up to 300 guests.
“Yes the new directive has extended the curfew and all, but we don’t know how it is going to be enforced.
We have plans underway to invite big international deejays, producers and artists who should be coming into the country in the next few months, so we will be waiting to get directions on how to go about this.
Meanwhile, we are also looking to do something bigger in August this year, to increase the frequencies in the market,” said Eugeno.
Top Kenyan House music deejay, Euggy, of Gondwana Kenya, was amongst the 16 deejays spinning at the festival.
He said that he was impressed by the turn out of the event, especially considering the season and current situation.
“I have never seen Paparemo events filled to this capacity. I can estimate the number from between 150-300 and that was quite a big number.
Given the year we’ve had, the hospitality industry took a big toll, and so was the entertainment sector,” he said.
Euggy said it is important for them to do their own activities to promote both tourism and entertainment.
“The festival has been a success and I am sure the concept can be copied in other counties, maybe with a few adjustments on style and vibe.
Otherwise, on the new directive, I expected it, but it might be the last leg. After the 60 days, we expect ease in restrictions,” he added.
And while the party mood lit the beach village, the festival brought real good tides to the hotel business in the area.
Manager, Tamu Beach Bar and Restaurant, Nadia Lucas hopes that there will be more festivals as business during the three days was the best he has seen since the pandemic struck.
“This festival has really pushed business for us. Before that, things were very slow. I hope we can have a festival every month or maybe every three months.
I had proposed the idea a while back, but it was underestimated, I am glad though, that this event has proved me right,” he smiled.
He, however, expressed displeasure with the new restrictions aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19, noting that business will continue to be affected.
“Right now, we have two chefs here, but because of the curfew hours, we cannot do dinners.
So, only one chef is needed, aside from that, I will have to be releasing the staff by 7pm because they live quite far from here.
This directive has come just as things were starting to pick up, it is quite unfortunate,” he said disappointedly.
Japheth Kyegong, a travel consultant agrees that with an oversaturated market and a handful of domestic tourists, marketing that stands out from the crowd is the way to go.
He says domestic travel is the lifeline the industry is hanging its hopes on for the foreseeable future.
Regardless of how successful the fight against Covid-19 will be, he says international travel will likely be offline for some time.
“If hotels are to survive, bookings and revenue will have to be sourced from the domestic market.
Therefore, shifting focus to domestic tourists and tailoring products specifically for them is the way to go until normalcy is achieved, and beyond,” he offers.
He says that it is vital that hotels get control over their costs and finances, gain insight into their local market trends and forecasts, evaluate their historical sales and marketing strategies, seek data on domestic travellers, or new strategies appropriate for the current climate among other moves to be able to successfully secure the local tourism market.
“Hotels will have to be creative and flexible with their offerings for those who are travelling.
Success could come down to how they package an experience for guests who have been under lockdown and great stress prior to taking a trip,” he explains.
The event was held in partnership with with the Kilifi County Government, Kenya Wildlife Services, Bliss Healthcare, Kericho Gold and East Africa breweries limited.